I Can't Spend Every Day Fighting Cancer

In the immediate instance — and that’s where life is lived — I won’t spend my energy fighting against cancer. But that does not mean I don’t care. 

How do you feel about your physical remnants of cancer?

As a man with breast cancer, I understand that the stigmas and perceptions of human breasts are vastly different for men and women.Guys have it relatively easy when it comes to dealing with the disfigurement of mastectomy surgery.

In the eight years since my own diagnosis, I have met a handful of men who elected to have breast implants, reconstructive surgery and even nipple tattoos. I think that these are worthwhile improvements for those who require them, but I must admit that my missing breast has become more and more unimportant to me as time goes by.

Admittedly, I kept my shirt on at our community pool for the first summer after my surgery, but this was mostly because I hadn’t yet learned the language to explain my breast scar. I never felt embarrassed by my disfigurement.

In my own experience, how we perceive our personal cancer story can often be a reflection of how we view our own life experience. I am not at war with cancer. I have neither the time nor the energy to wake up each day, don my combat gear, head out to the battlefield and shoot blindly at an unseen enemy.

I have a couple of distressed teeth, two knee replacements, a recent skin graft, allergies, thinning hair, and this list gets longer. I also have breast cancer. But I don’t rank my cancer any higher than those other issues as a threat because all these things are a part of my day-to-day life experience.

Sure, I’m not likely to die any time soon as a result of my bad teeth, but the way in which each one of these challenges impacts my life is similar in many respects, at least in the immediate moment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not comparing cancer to a toothache. But I’ve discovered that I don’t have to allow my cancer to tax my mental health every day when there is no imminent concern.

Understandably, our early days after a cancer diagnosis are often stressful and certainly confusing as we look for some sort of stable footing in our journey. I know that those days were a struggle for me, but I also realized that one day I would have to accept what was happening in my life and move on, or risk repeating the downside of cancer over and over again.

My choice then is to deny this disease the power to impede my reverence for every day I’ve lived, and I reject all attempts by cancer to create fear of the unknown or resistance to the inevitable. I’m OK with feeling the pain, the disappointment and the disharmony of my cancer—along with the possibility that I may die because of it, but I’m unwilling to spend the healing energy of my own life force by continually fighting off the “antagonist” that, like it or not, is now a part of my body and my world.

Not fighting should not be misconstrued as not caring. In fact, the opposite is true. I’m reminded of my cancer every day. I feel the discomfort and frustration that my disease creates. I watch it pass through me. I take the steps that I feel are necessary to heal, and then I return to living right here and right now.

In my view, only this moment is life.

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